Editor’s note: Rob Brendle is the founding pastor of Denver United Church, a former associate pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and the author of "In the Meantime: The Practice of Proactive Waiting."
By Rob Brendle, Special to CNN
I held her hand as she died.
Her family had come to a church where I was pastoring that morning, a routine Sunday. A thousand things would never have crossed their minds as they drove through Colorado Springs toward New Life Church’s enormous concrete worship center - including the prospect of being assaulted in their minivan by a young man with a high-powered rifle.
Later that day, we were all at a local hospital. The girl whose hand I held, Rachel, had already lost a sister at the scene. Her father was down the hall in critical condition and her mother was coming undone in the waiting room, but she didn’t know any of it. Rachel lay unconscious for a couple of hours more in the ICU.
And then she died. Her family had come to church together that morning, and by nightfall they were shattered.
That was almost five years ago.
The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado shook me and the rest of the nation. Reading about the young and unsuspecting victims took me back to the dying girl in the ICU who had come to my church that day in 2007, in a an incident that left the two girls dead and injured several others. Back to the Columbine massacre a decade earlier that horrified the world and traumatized Colorado. And back to the aching questions that accompanied those previous incidents: Why did this happen? Where was God in all of it? How could a loving God allow this?
Where was God in Aurora? 7 responses
We pastors face the unenviable task of being asked to answer for God. Most people ask the big questions in times of irresolution, times when satisfying answers are scarce.
Let’s be clear: there are no easy answers to the deepest questions of suffering. Libraries overflow with the volumes that have been written to address these questions. Centuries of philosophers, pundits and preachers have reflected on the existence of evil, the meaning of pain and the role of God in suffering.
I won’t begin to recount all of their ruminations here. But here’s what I think.
God is the author of life and the originator of good. He distinguished humankind from among his creation with faculties like reason, emotion, dexterity and choice. Scripture teaches that God made people in his image. Set apart from all the rest of his creatures, we were endowed with the capacity to know our Creator and ennobled with the ability to choose him. So singularly did God love humans that he gave us this ultimate gift.
Aurora survivor to alleged shooter: ‘I forgive you’
The capacity to choose God and goodness came with the commensurate ability to choose evil. Is it loving to force his creation to follow his order, or to teach it and leave the creature to choose? It would seem that God came to the same conclusion that America’s founders did many millennia later: compulsory virtue is no virtue at all.
But Scripture also teaches that God is totally in control. He is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is willing and able to intervene in human events. So there is a gap between human choice and divine foreknowledge, a gap that transcends understanding and that helps define God in my mind.
The debate over this theological tension has persisted for centuries, and I don’t aim to settle it here. Let me suggest simply that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen to make our decisions meaningful. Consequently, much of what happens on earth neither conforms to nor results from his preference. There are at least four influences on human events: God’s will, to be sure; but also the will of Satan, our adversary; peoples’ choices, for better or for worse; and natural law (gravity, collision, combustion, and the like).
It is difficult to know which force causes the circumstances that devastate us. But it is enough to know that God need not be responsible for them.
The man who made the Aurora crosses
Much of the internal gridlock around tragedy is because suffering is foreign to us. This foreignness is peculiarly Western and modern. Most of the world, for most of the world’s history, has known tragedy and trauma in abundance.
You don’t get nearly the same consternation in Burundi or Burma, because suffering is normal to them. God and hard times coexist intuitively there. For us, though, God has become Anesthetist-in-Chief. To believe in him is to be excused from bad things. He is our panacea for the woes of life.
The God of the Bible promises no exemption from suffering. In fact, he all but promises suffering. He does not suggest that his followers won’t go through fire, but rather that we won’t burn up. Mostly he promises to be there with us, to comfort and encourage us and renew our strength. God grieves with us, and he grows us into good people in the process.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
Where was God in Aurora? He was on the lawn in front of the Civic Building as thousands gathered in solidarity, hope, and love at a packed prayer vigil last Sunday. He was in University Hospital as neurosurgeons groped for synonyms for miraculous.
He was in the outpouring of compassion at a victim’s funeral and in the passionate call for unity from a resolute councilwoman and at the bedside vigil of a wounded victim’s church community. Redemption has only begun in Aurora, and already God is everywhere. Their will be beauty once this story is written that overshadows and transcends the ashes.
Jesus started his ministry by declaring, “I am the light of the world,” and ended it with “you are the light of the world.”
What God our cities will see is what we show them. From the beginning, light has shone in the darkness - he ordered it that way. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light will appear. Where is God in Aurora? He is shining brightly from the hearts of his people.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rob Brendle.
I think he had to pick his robe from the cleaners!
God doesn't care whether you live or die.
If good exists, and if he has a grand plan, then he does care.
We all die.
Therefore, he cares because he makes sure that we all die.
That is, of course, if he actually exists.
He is where the bible says He is, sitting on His throne. The bible says He gave man dominion and authority over all the earth and all that is in it. He never interferes. He is a perfect gentleman. He did not have any control or authority over James Thomas. James was free to make his own decisions and his own choices, then to carry them out, exactly like you and I do every second of every day.
This pastor apparently doesn't know the Bible well. In the Bible it DOES say that God will bless those faithful to him in some places, although it says the opposite in others.
This belief in a god lacks all humility. We are a tiny speck on this planet, and the planet is a tiny meat ball in the solar system, which is a tiny speck in the Milky Way galaxy of billions of stars, which itself is a tiny speck in the known universe of billions of galaxies. Yet, for all that going on, this god apparently has time to make a "personal plan" just for some individual and get involved in their life and do things like determine if they will get in a car crash today or not, or get a raise at work or not. What utter arrogance!
It's not arrogance. It's faith. Even the Psalmist wonders why God is mindful of man, so little and insignificant under the universe. And the psalmist wonders this even without the knowledge we have now about the new planets and stars and galaxies that have been discovered.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Where was God in Aurora, Darfur, Auschwitz, Iraq? I would never ask God for anything – a job, cure my Athlete's Foot, better food. Live your life good and true and just. God can take care of himself.
The people in that movie theater were living their lives good, true and just. See what happened to them?
Funny. I asked that same question while I was in Vietnam and people said I was a heathen.....
Pastor Rob and Readers:
"Compulsory virtue is no virtue at all." Yes. That explains God's giving us free will. So don't force abortion and gay laws on people who wish to use their free will. Legislating anti-abortion laws is then counter to God's will'
In defense of god killing unborn fetuses in the great flood a believer said on one of these blogs it was actually a good thing. Because the fetuses did not yet have sin so they get an express trip to heaven, no need to stand in the judgement line. Given that logic, believers should celebrate abortion.
I've actually wondered about that. Some believers say that children below a certain age don't get sent to hell. In that case, what's the problem with abortion? Isn't it better that an unborn baby goes to heaven for sure than have it be born and grow up, in which case it might go to heaven, or it might go to hell? Isn't its eternal destination more important than its earthly life?
God seems to be prone to mood swings.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
"I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."
makes no sense!
The god was where he always is, no where, because he does not exist.
A pervert comes accross a dead body lying on a bed. The pervert is strangely attracted to the corpse so they say to the corpse "Hey you, if you don't want me to roll you on your side and and have my way with you, just speak up and say something...anything? Well, I guess thats it then..."
A Christian comes accross a 2000 year old religion. The Christian is strangely attracted to the religion so they say to it's God "Hey God, would you be offended if I use your name to make money and profit and take credit for things when they go right and then blame things on you when they go wrong, if so just speak up and say something... anything? Well, I guess thats it then..."
makes no point at all.. really, lame.. read a Holy Bible and read it all.. you'll understand what it means to you... do not EXPECT of God to give you anything at all.. God has an absolutely power to decide what he can give or not.. He is your Father, Boss, whatever you call Him. He can call anyone on Earth to die and face Him.. for dead or live in eternity
The NRA is a force for evil championed by Satan.
Yes, there is an easy, simple answer. God wasn't in Aurora because god isn't, period.
I don't get it. God isn't comma period period
He's always there. Especially "In the beginning...", and even "...to the very end of the age."
This writer runs into the same fallacy as the millions of theologians who came before him. When something unexplainable happens and brings good results, God gets the credit. But when something unexplainable happens that brings horrible results, it's anybody's fault but God's. Double standard. So remember, if a natural disaster kills you or someone you love, it was human free will that caused that tornado or earthquake, not God!
It's all part of his plan. We don't know what he really has in store for us.
Part of his plan? How exactly is anything like this part of his plan? More nonsense. Yes, my son's cancer was part of his plan. I don't think so. But, if those are his plans God is a piece of crap and I'm happy not to be associated with him.
Trying to make sense of a delusional killer, with religious delusions...very sad.
Where was god when 8 million Jews were killed? Listening to mormon's prayers.
8 million jews died? you count wrong.. btw mormon is false.. Joseph Smith made a false bible so all of you mormon thought he is a prophet.. nope... Jesus said he was the LAST Prophet.. so anyone who claims prophet after Jesus is a hypocrite/evildoers
There is no flying spaghetti monster, or a talking snake.
You mean the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns? and the land beast that talks about how the other beast can rain fire down? That is the navy with 7 fleets and (soon-to-be) 10 nuclear carriers. The snake was a euphemism for a dick.
@cobe, you would have more credibility if you wrote your own material.
“If God is good, why does He allow suffering?”
Answer: This is a common and difficult question for many people. Suffering is rampant in our world. Suffering can have different causes, such as:
Logical, natural consequences of our own sins. Example: Someone drives after drinking too much alcohol, and gets hurt in an accident.
Sins of others. Example: Someone else drinks and drives and hurts us, or someone we love.
Unavoidable physical disasters.
Much of the discussion centers on the concept of free will. God did not create us as puppets. He wants to have relationships with us. He loves us and wants us to love Him. But He won’t make us love him. That would be violating our free will. God doesn’t step in and violate the free will of others when they are about to do something bad to us. As C.S. Lewis said, “Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. The happiness God designs for his higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”
Some people ask, “Why doesn’t God intervene to stop evil?” First, if he intervened every time someone was going to perform an evil act, we would have no free will to do good or evil. Second, keep in mind that God DID intervene by sending His Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for all the evil deeds ever committed or to be committed. And Jesus will intervene again at some point and wipe out evil completely. Third, He still intervenes and performs miracles in His creation, but sometimes He lets evil things happen for a greater good to come out of them.
Allowing suffering doesn’t mean that God isn’t perfectly good. Letting something happen is different than making it happen. God can reach us in our pain. As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” My goal is to listen carefully so He doesn’t have to shout at me! :-)
Many people assume that God is indifferent to suffering. Yet God so loved the world that He gave his only Son to experience unimaginable suffering and to die as a victim of evil and cruelty. He endured this to overcome sin, so that we might be reconciled to God and eventually live a perfect life with him in heaven. Jesus endured all manner of unjust suffering, including being rejected by family members and others, mocked, abandoned by friends, beaten, given 40 lashes and crucified, so it is unfair to say that He is indifferent to pain. Also, read all the stories of how compassionate Jesus was when encountering suffering people. He was not aloof. He cared about and shared their pain, just like He cares about your pain and problems now.
The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel, provides some solid answers to this question, as do many other books and web sites. An “admittedly imperfect but nevertheless helpful illustration” Mr. Strobel used in a Christian Research Journal article (“Handling Christianity’s Toughest Challenge”) also helps put suffering in perspective. Imagine having an absolutely horrible day on January 1 – you crash your new car, lose lots of money, have health problems, etc.- then having the remaining 364 days of the year filled with pure joy and success. How would you respond when someone asks how the year went? Most likely, you would say it was a great year. Our earthly lives might be like the first bad day, but heaven will be like the perfect, joyful 364 days, and beyond (provided we have accepted God’s free gift of grace).
Having said all this, keep in mind that there are no easy answers for people who are suffering. They generally need love and compassion instead of a lot of theories. So before answering, be careful to determine why someone is asking this question. Is it purely theoretical? Is it because they are suffering? Or is it a smokescreen because it makes a convenient excuse?
(Adapted from GotQuestions.org)
You don't get it. He DOESN'T care or he would never allow bad things to happen in the first place. That is what I can never get "Christians" to understand when I ask that question. The answer that you give is simply not sufficient or acceptable. My son got cancer. Exactly how is cancer in a 4 year old acceptable to God? And this shooting in Aurora. That can't simply be compared to a bad day. The problem I have with "Christianity" is that is relies entirely on this belief that God is good, yet there are no answers for all of the bad stuff. Unless the bad goes away you won't find me accepting Christ anytime soon.
RJ, I'm not going to pretend that I understand the pain of losing a child. I have three children, including a 4-year old son. I cannot imagine if the Lord took him away. But I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if he died, he would go to Heaven and I would be able to see him again when I die.
God took King David's son when he was newborn. King David grieved for him but he also knew with conviction that he would see him again, and that is the hope that God offers you and all people. The thing that people have such a hard time understanding is sin and God's holiness. As long as we don't understand that we need a Savior (even if we never murder and we only "tell white lies" – sin still separates us from God and He provided a way, His Son Jesus, for us to go to Heaven.
If you believe, you WILL see your son again.
But, don't take it from me – read the Bible. Read it for yourself – don't let anyone else tell you what it says.
Here is David's account on when his son died:
Loss of a Child
16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.
18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.”
19 David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.
21 His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Even though God took the child away, David did not stop believing in God and he knew that he would see his son again in Heaven.
RJW, another thing – that is one thing that no atheist will be able to offer you: hope of seeing your son again. But the Bible offers the hope of eternal life – it's not a fairy tale. You do need faith to believe it, but just read it – ask God to help you understand it, even the seeming contradictions.
In the end, you will see that there is hope of seeing your son again.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.